Chapter published in:The Social Dynamics of Pronominal Systems: A comparative approach
Edited by Paul Bouissac
[Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 304] 2019
► pp. 219–234
Pronouns in an 18th century Chinese novel
What they tell us about social dynamics
The Chinese language has a five-thousand-year history, and one can track the evolution of pronouns from historical to contemporary texts. Some historical Chinese pronouns constitute complex systems. In Chinese, address systems are a more obvious indicator of politeness (Kádár 2007). However, the subtle use of pronouns in Chinese to show (im)politeness has gone quite unnoticed. In the 18th Century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, one needs to understand the social dynamics of the contexts in which the pronouns are used to know why plural pronouns are used to refer to single referents and second-person and third-person singular pronouns are used to refer to more than one referents.The novel features the complex social hierarchy within an influential family where each person is mindful of his position in the web of social strata. Therefore, it is vital to understand the social hierarchy of the speakers, interlocutors, and referents to understand why such discrepancies occur. These discrepancies between pronouns and referents indicate the attitudes of the speakers towards the people they are speaking or referring to, functioning like a social index showing attitudes in the context of hierarchical social networks.
Keywords: Chinese, pronoun, switched numbers, attitude, distance, power
Published online: 23 July 2019
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